If Lawless, the latest film from director John Hillcoat (The Road), was simply Tom Hardy sitting down and reading the entire script while seated in a chair, it just might have more personality and charisma than this dull, plodding prohibition era drama could muster.
In chronicling the real life exploits of famed Franking County, Virginia backwoods moonshine runners the Bondourant boys, Hillcoat and musician-screenwriter Nick Cave are trying to make a realistic revisionist western, but they keep getting dragged down by the fact that neither seems to know how to balance the film’s numerous and vastly different characters.
Eldest brother Forrest (Hardy) is the brains of the operation; a strong, silent type that’s been described in local lore as being immortal. Middle child Howard (Jason Clarke) is the loose cannon enforcer, and youngest Jack (Shia LaBeouf) acts as the naïve driver, but he really fancies himself becoming a future Mafioso in the vein of his idol Floyd Banner (a cameoing Gary Oldman with little to do). Their world is thrown into flux by the arrival of a Chicago hotshot fed (a horribly misguided Guy Pearce playing a character that belongs in a sci-fi movie in terms of mannerism and appearance), who aims to put them out of business even if it means killing everyone in his path.
Aside from Hardy’s genuinely great turn as the smartest man in the film and the campiness brought by Pearce, Lawless is about as smooth going down as rubbing alcohol. LaBeouf doesn’t do anything more than the same petulant brat routine he’s trotted out several times already, and making his hopelessly green hooch hustler the focal point of the film’s second half makes the movie lose dramatic momentum fast. Also wasted in thankless roles are the usually great Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska as love interests for Forrest and Jack, respectively.
It also doesn’t help that Hillcoat has always been the kind of filmmaker that likes to drag out the miserably circumstances of his characters to unconscionable lengths. What makes this film less successful, however, is that the script just isn’t able to go to the same depths as the director, leading to a film that’s not as depressing as the director wants, but far duller than one would expect.
Cast: Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Shia LaBeouf
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Top image: A scene from Lawless. Courtesy Alliance Films.